Trojans Prevent Birth of Freedom
by John K. Berntson, August 14, 2003
In Comparative Advantage for Libertarian Trojans, Steve Gresh rehashes an old idea in the freedom movement, dressing it up in economic and military language. His basic premise, that we should infiltrate the major parties, run for office, demagogue the public, and, once elected, vote and behave as good libertarians, simply cannot pass muster.
To start with, one obvious example of someone who will never be able to "infiltrate" is Mr. Gresh himself. Steve, by publishing your piece on a website that is read by at least a few Republican politicians, you have sealed your fate. Rest assured, there is already a notation made in your file at Secret Republican Headquarters. They may let you stuff envelopes, but they will never now trust you with a position of responsibility.
Okay, let us say that you are successful beyond your wildest dreams and, in some near-future election, you manage to infiltrate and elect ten freedom-loving candidates into the State House freshman class. Let us say that you are one of them. What happens next?
Do you start by introducing a bill to repeal the state income tax? Yes, the House leadership would get a good chuckle about that, then send it to a committee where, there being only one or two of your freshmen on it, it dies. Oh, and they also note that, since you are not living up to what you said in your campaign, you are not to be trusted.
Or perhaps you start with some lesser bill, maybe cutting income tax rates by a tenth of a percent. Maybe the leadership lets it pass, maybe it doesn't. It would have good PR value with the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, after all, and it would not really hurt the state treasury all that much. However, the leaders are not really happy with you, since once again, this is not something you campaigned on and they worry what other surprises you have in store.
Or maybe you decide not to submit any bills, so that you don't blow your cover too soon. In this case, senior members of your party approach you about submitting bills for them, since they are over quota for the year. Do you tell them you won't do it? Or do you go along, biding your time until the major bills come out on the House floor?
Maybe you decide to enact your great plan at the committee level, since you are probably on one or two committees. But, again, you and your freshmen are distributed among the various committees, one or two per. Sure, you can vote "no" on bad bills and maybe you will be an unexpected vote in favor of a "good" bill that the leadership did not expect. Odds are, however, that the committee will vote, up or down, in the way that the majority party's leadership dictates.
So maybe a couple of good bills come to the House floor. Maybe you and your freshmen even manage to get one or two of them passed, over the objections of your party's leadership. Maybe you get a bad bill killed. These things do happen, even with non-infiltrated legislatures.
The real question, at the end of the first year, is what do your party leaders think of you? If they are happy with you, it means you have probably done what they wanted most of the time on most issues. If this is the case, it doesn't seem like your infiltration did much good.
If, on the other hand, the leaders are pissed at you, then guess what happens. You and your freshmen find your committee assignments changed. You are put where you can do the least damage. Any bills you submit are sent to committees that are sure to kill them. They cannot keep you from voting, but they make allowances for it in their wheeling and dealing. You cause little real harm; at most, you delay their plans for a couple of years. Of course, the press loves you, since you start speaking out against your own party, but that does not necessarily endear you to the party faithful back home.
Then it comes time for reelection. Remember Sam Strongshoulder, the guy your party got to run your campaign two years ago? Suddenly, he is not available to you. In fact, it turns out that you now have a primary challenger, Sam is running his campaign, and the donations all seem to be going their way. You could, of course, appeal to the voters, the party's rank and file - oh, but wait, you lied to them. You did not do what you told them you would; you did not even try. Yes, they are just waiting to twist the knife in your back.
Even if you survive the primary - doubtful - you are so weak that you may lose in the general, even in what is usually a safe district. But even if a few of your freshmen survive and become sophomores, they have now attained permanent pariah status and will have no influence during the coming legislative sessions.
Or, maybe the idea is to wait a few years. You know, let the infiltrators stay hidden, act like regular legislators, until you can get enough of them elected for you to "Cry Havoc and Let Loose the Dogs of War!" Who makes this decision, by the way, of when to begin the legislative attack? Who picks this person? Does this person sound the attack when just the state legislature has been infiltrated? Or do you wait until you have the US Congress as well? And all the while, term limits are getting closer and closer. What do you do if others don't agree with your plan? What mechanism is there for dealing with people who renege on their promise to renege?
The problem is, of course, that the longer "your" people are part of the process, the more of them there are that are going to come to like the whole power game. Some of them will decide that they like the game just the way it is - and you won't know it until you try to execute "The Great Plan."
The major parties are quite aware of the idea of "infiltrators." This is why they vet people, every step of the way. They start you on precinct work, then graduate you to district and county level. Maybe they ask you to take a position on an appointed board, like the planning commission. You won't be asked to run for office, unless you have proven yourself time and time again. Even then, once elected, you will be kept in junior positions until they feel it is safe to let you grow a notch. The major parties constantly vet their members; this is how they have prevented most infiltrations. Sure, there are cases where a major party will let a person just off the street run on their ticket, but this only happens where the seat is considered safe for the other side.
In the end, you will have accomplished little for freedom, except to waste yet more years trying a non-solution. And it would be a waste of time, because you believe that you can ram freedom down America's throat, which you should realize can never be done.
You see, we live in a Democracy. (Yes, I hear you in the back of the room. We are also a Republic. The two are not mutually exclusive.) The politicians have not been doing horrible things behind the backs of the American people; they have been doing them right in front of the people, with their blessing. "Stupid voters," as you call them, have been asking politicians to solve their problems for them, for generations now, and politicians have invoked program after program to get the problems solved. The programs don't work, of course, but that doesn't stop the people from voting for candidates offering the next Great Solution.
The only way we will ever get true freedom in this country is if the people want it. Yes, this means educating them. Both liberals and conservatives will have to be shown that their attempts to effect change through government force are not only unproductive, but counter-productive. But we don't need to force-feed Rand or Hayek to people; we simply have to show them how the programs they have been supporting and voting for are hurting people (as shown on www.downsizedc.org). No, not a great philosophical debate, but a simple, common sense demonstration of politics and bureaucracy in action.
No, we have not done so well with this, thus far. We are still a very small movement. We should be proud of the fact that this movement has produced so many good and talented people. It will take time and patience and growth, but it can be done.
Meanwhile, all you Trojans will do is waste time and effort on another attempt at a quick, silver-bullet solution. You will lose credibility and influence with the public and your fellow politicians. You will reinforce the notion that all politicians are liars and cheats, which is mostly problematic for us. We need to be able to point the finger at both Republicans and Democrats, telling people why both approaches are failures. This will be harder to do if our friends are right in the middle of them.
Not Comparative Advantage, Steve. No, no advantage at all.
John Berntson served as Chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado from 2001 to 2003.